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Deborah Coddington Maiden Speech

Deborah Coddington Maiden Speech

Thursday 29 Aug 2002 Deborah Coddington Speeches -- Other

Mr Speaker, congratulations on your appointment as speaker for the new term of the 47^th Parliament.

My decision to stand for Parliament raised eyebrows among some of my former colleagues in the media. As a member of the fourth estate they considered I was abandoning my role of holding the third estate to account.

I was expected to provide an explanation for wanting to leap the divide.

As an issues-driven journalist I campaigned against sex offenders, child abuse, the slow death of the academic curriculum, the introduction of the NCEA, the dissolution of the family.

While many of my friends in the media railed against the invisible hand of the market, I feared the visible boot of government. It stamps on individual liberties and puts its toe into the private lives of adults - from their employment contracts to their choice of television viewing, and latterly that most private of relationships - what is agreed in the bedroom.

But now I am a member of this Parliament and therefore, some would say, part of the force behind the bossy boot of the state.

But I am here as a member of the ACT Party, the only party that unashamedly promotes small government and a liberal vision.

Big government, like any domineering body, is most harmful to those who are vulnerable, who are struggling, those desperately seeking happiness.

I am reminded of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

The US coastguards do not find people swimming from Florida to Cuba through shark-infested waters. And despite her many faults and aberrations, America is still a beacon of freedom and prosperity.

But what is freedom? As a crusading journalist I have seen what freedom is not.

Freedom is not the family whose lives are blighted because they discovered the man they trusted, a respected member of the community, was granted name suppression and moved freely through society sexually abusing children in his care.

Freedom is not manifest in the lives of children like James Whakaruru, a Hastings four-year-old savagely beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend, imprisoned once already for beating James. This killer, when released, resumed assaulting James on a weekly basis. In April 1999, despite the fact numerous officials knew James was at risk, the state's agents failed to protect him.

James was stomped on, punched, kicked, choked, thrashed with a jug chord, beaten with a vacuum cleaner pipe, a hammer and a drawer - all over a period of two days - until his internal organs could take no more and he died.

Justice Wild, when sentencing James's killer, said: "All through this beating James apparently said nothing, but stared blankly at you, I daresay wondering why you were doing these terrible things to him. Sadly, a Judge like me hears and sees evidence of many dreadful and awful things. However, the photographs in evidence in this case taken of James upon his admission to hospital and subsequently during the post mortem examination are shocking and distressing. I must admit that it is beyond comprehension to me how any adult could inflict injuries of this sort to a little child."

When I wrote the original story on James's death for North & South magazine I asked defence counsel for the killer why James's mother returned to her boyfriend despite placing her child in danger. He said, "You have to understand, without James she lost her income and her house."

Freedom is not condemning one million New Zealanders, as a recent literacy survey showed, to a life bereft of the advantages, benefits and unremitting joys of discovering knowledge. Today nearly 20 per cent of young New Zealanders are leaving school without the basic literacy and numeracy skills required for everyday living.

Unable to sign off on Health and Safety regulations they'll not find work in factories. Confused about the instructions on a contraceptive pill packet, they may bear unwanted children. Seduced by no-deposit, interest-free hire purchase, they could sink into crime under a crushing pile of debt.

I am totally in favour of a compassionate and supportive welfare net which helps people with dignity. But making able-bodied, intelligent, healthy people permanently dependent on the state is one of the worst things you can do for them.

Welfare should be there for the truly vulnerable, not the corporates who successfully lobby governments to pass laws protecting their wealth. Picking a corporate winner inevitably results in a taxpayer or consumer loser. Those most adversely affected are those on low incomes with children.

Freedom is not forcing struggling families to pay more than they need to for shoes and clothes because of tariffs which protect corporate bosses.

Freedom is not granting special privileges to unions by raising the minimum wage levels. The unemployed will always be competition to the unions and governments should not bow to union bosses' demands for protection from their competition.

Increasing the minimum wage condemns more people to a lifetime of dependency, deprived of the chance to acquire more skills and knowledge.

Freedom is not telling parents which school they must send their children to. As a board member of a large government secondary school I have had to administer unfair zoning regulations which prevent parents from poorer suburbs sending their girls to what they see as the best school.

Unable to afford a house in the grammar zone, or to go private, their children must go to the nearest local school. For many disadvantaged children, education is their one ticket out of poverty. If they miss this bus, their futures can be very difficult.

We allow employees the freedom to choose whom to work for without legal constraints based on gender, age, appearance and ethnicity, but we refuse those same liberties to employers.

We have a country that was built, in part, by pioneering men and women making lives for themselves in a remote and difficult land. They were self-reliant, they helped each other, and fundamental to their turning New Zealand into a first-world country was the protection of their property rights.

Today private property owners must get permission from the state to make even the subtlest improvement to their own land. I have seen a man fined $20,000 for turning a muddy eyesore into a duckpond.

Edmund Burke once stated that bad law is the worst form of tyranny. The Resource Management Act certainly fits that description.

New Zealanders are concerned about equity. We honour the concept of an equitable society, but this should mean a society where individuals have the same rights to pursue their own personal interests, provided they tread softly, not on the dreams of others.

A free and fair society helps the poor by promoting jobs and growth, providing opportunities for all, and a social safety net. A free and fair society does this without penalising success with envy-driven taxation schemes.

A fair society does not turn those who work hard and accumulate wealth into pariahs, driving them offshore. We should reward effort, not take someone else's riches simply because we don't have them.

I believe New Zealand can and should be a more prosperous and fairer country, with greater personal freedoms, a more limited government and open competitive markets.

Globalisation, capitalism and tolerance do wonderful things for people - cheap phones, the internet, affordable cars, fresh vegetables out of season, unorthodox lifestyles, opportunities for all no matter what level of society a child is born into.

But the history of the world shows us that the alternative to individual liberty is paternalism, despotism, serfdom, tyranny, misery.

Three days after I became a list MP, Milton Friedman, an American economist and hero for freedom, turned 90 and was honoured by George Bush at a White House ceremony. But even if Clinton was in office - or Carter or Reagan - this great American would still have been celebrated for using his brilliant mind to advance a moral vision.

In June this year Sir Roger Douglas was awarded the Hayek medal - the first time this honour has been given to someone outside Europe. The citation to Sir Roger stated: "This medal is presented to outstanding politicians, entrepreneurs and scholars who stand for the aims and values of a free society and who, as you did in your whole political life, courageously defend the principles of classical liberalism in our days."

Mr Speaker, this house should be proud of this achievement by one of its eminent former members.

For one brief moment in time, at the end of the 1980s, the world looked to New Zealand as an example of greater economic freedom. Since then we've gone to sleep and allowed our country to wallow in complacency.

Perhaps Lord Acton was correct when he said the true friends of liberty are always few.

But I'm more optimistic. In my head and my heart I don't believe I'm very different from most New Zealanders in my aspirations. I'm just a girl from Ugly Hill Road but I'm proud of what I am - white, much loved mother of four, heterosexual, well educated and happy. I was born white and female, but I've worked hard at the rest.

I love excellence and I believe this country can be smart, happy and liberated. It will be bumpy, but in this new Parliament I see individuals in every party who I know share my vision for a liberated country where children are protected, private property rights are secured, empowered parents can choose the best education, entrepreneurs can soar free from government restraint, and adults can pursue their lawful business unfettered by Orwellian legislation.

And, in the words of Joseph Conrad: "I would take liberty from any hand as a hungry man would snatch a piece of bread."


For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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